North-South health divide bigger than ever with alarming rise in deaths of northern 25-44 year olds

Posted on 9 August 2017

Dying early (under age 75) is 20% more likely in northern compared with southern England, according to research conducted by the Universities of York and Manchester.

Led by the University of Manchester, the study uncovers a North-South divide in deaths among middle aged adults, which has been rising since the mid-90s and is now at alarming levels.

The team shows that a sharp increase in premature deaths among middle aged adults in the North first emerged in the mid-90s, increasingly quickly but consistently until the end of the study period in 2015.

Key findings include:

  • 1.2 million more early deaths in the North from 1965 to 2015
  • 49% more deaths among 35-44 year olds in the North in 2015
  • 29% more deaths among 25-34 year olds in the North in 2015

The study used data from the Office of National Statistics on the whole English population from 1965 to 2015. It was supported by the Health eResearch Centre at The University of Manchester which is part of The Farr Institute and funded through a consortium of ten partners led by the Medical Research Council.

New questions raised

Published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the news raises questions over the effectiveness of government policies and billions of pounds of public investment designed to tackle the problem.

Lead researcher, Professor Iain Buchan from The University of Manchester said: “Five decades of death records tell a tale of two Englands, North and South, divided by resources and life expectancy – a profound inequality resistant to the public health interventions of successive governments.”

“A new approach is required, one that must address the economic and social factors that underpin early deaths, especially in younger populations, and one that focuses on rebalancing the wider economy to help drive investment in northern towns and cities.

Proportionate weighting

“The devolution of centralised powers may enable civic leaders to seed the economic growth to tackle this divide, but only if they are given the proportionate northern weighting of funds to do so.”

Tim Doran, Professor of Health Policy from the Department of Health Sciences, added: “These important findings were made possible by examining public health data – held by the NHS and other agencies – dating back decades. The data, technology and skills now exist to better understand population health and develop public policies to improve it proportionately.”